This and dozens of other essays are compiled in the book Between: Living Live in Neither Extreme. Check it out!
When Aaron was little I took him to a parent-toddler class where, two mornings a week, we moms (yep, all moms) watched our kids play with high quality wooden blocks, hovered, told them to use their words when they wanted to smack each other, and then traded off having parenting discussions with a parent educator. I liked to sit in the classes and say things like “Everything’s good in moderation, including my patience,” and “Is it bad to yell ‘stop yelling’ at my kid?” It was here where I wondered whether I was between the worlds of stay at home moms and moms with careers. I knew I was in the midst of moms-who-could-afford-high-quality-wooden-blocks, importantly. But the other? Not sure.
I wondered this during a conversation about chocolate chips.
Now, of course, chocolate chips and motherhood are not necessarily overlapping categories, but I would argue that moms are more likely than dads to: a) go to the baking aisle to buy chocolate chips; and b) mold chocolate chips into some masterful shape on top of a kid’s birthday cake in the hopes that it’d be picture perfect and therefore be eligible to be shown on Pinterest.
Pinterest — you know, the online bulletin board of pretty styles and lovely things and meaningful art projects that inspire us to try to emulate prettiness, loveliness, and meaningfulness in our threadbare purple velour elastic-waistband pants (Neal calls these “eatin’-pants”), our découpage craft items that look like the wrong kind of French, and our misshapen birthday cakes. As a side note, my attempts at Aaron’s birthday cakes have been the following pairs of “supposed to be/actually turned out to be” cakes:
X-wing Fighter/Inappropriately Phallic Jet;
Tropical Jungle Tree/Inappropriately Phallic Tree; and
Ninja Lego Figures/Lego Figures Who Looked Like They Spent Too Much Time at a Rave in Inappropriate Tank Tops (but not phallic).
I also made a cake for my brother once that looked like a pair of underpants, but that was on purpose.
Anyway, I learned from the other moms at the parent-toddler class that there are evidently six kinds of chocolate chips. Six! And that one could discuss this for fifteen minutes. I clearly did not belong. That day I attributed my identity in no-moms-land to my belief that I was the only non-stay-at-home mom there. And I knew of only one kind of chocolate chip: the brown ones. Pinterest Fail.
But, you see, I did belong, because as the weeks went along it became clear to me that I had much in common with my fellow newby moms — including the struggle with impatient yelling, the identity work of mothering in a world with so much variety of women’s work experiences with little structural support, the difficulty of trying to remember to sometimes pay attention to our partners, our views on the world of local school politics, the challenge of taking care of our minds, bodies, and spirits, the hope beyond the stars for the safety and comfort of our babies, and the great likelihood that we will fail at making cupcakes eligible for Pinterestdom (but we will all be too hard on ourselves for that failure). And actually, not all of the women were staying at home, nor were the stay-at-home moms primarily interested in chocolate chips. I had assumed things. Dumb me.
When I think about the women in my world, and of course with the recognition that age and sexuality and race and class matter in defining what anyone’s “world” becomes, I believe that there are many ways that our worlds are more similar than different. Or that there are so many ways to overlap that the distinctions made between moms-less-often-at-work and moms-less-often-at-home are not relevant at all times. Or even most of the time. At least not in everyday conversations.
I made some very good friends during that parent-toddler class.
Also, it turns out now there are more dads than moms in my world who can name six kinds of chocolate chips, though they would likely pair them with entrees found at our friends’ annual meat fests, or talk about which type of red wine goes better with each chip. I still cannot. Six!? I’m good with not knowing. Less for me to do.
By the way, I believe I have a total of two “pins” on Pinterest: a bean dip recipe and a kitchen towel with an outline of Minnesota and different hot dish names written in different parts of the state on it. Pinterest Success!